By Anna Kettle, Crosswalk.com
I often tell people that infertility is just an endless waiting – waiting for your fertile days, waiting to take a pregnancy test, waiting for referrals, waiting for appointments with specialists, waiting for tests, treatments, and then for results. All of the waiting can be hard, but the dreaded two-week wait that occurs in every monthly cycle is probably the hardest waiting of all. It's an emotional rollercoaster when you're endlessly caught in a cycle of hope and then disappointment.
It can become such a difficult space to navigate for couples who go through it month after month. How do you approach the situation with faith while also being realistic that things might never work out as you hope? How do you pray for what you long for but also protect your heart?
Having experienced secondary infertility for several years now, I have a few thoughts and ideas about some of the most (and least!) constructive things you can pray for while in this season of waiting. I've pulled together six suggestions, each inspired by the biblical story of Hannah found in 1 Samuel 1. She was a Hebrew woman who faced many years of infertility before eventually giving birth to Samuel, who became an Old Testament prophet. Please know that I am not offering up this story as a like-for-like comparison with my own or with yours or as any promise or guarantee for a miracle. Faith is not a formula, and I don't think it's helpful to lift God's promises to someone else from the Bible and to try to claim them as our own. But I do think that studying other women in the Bible who struggled with infertility can equip us with helpful spiritual guidance and provide us with some pointers about how best to pray. So here they are:
1. Pray for a Healthy Conception
"Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son" (1 Samuel 1:11, NIV)
Perhaps at first glance, this might sound too obvious even to include, but when our prayers for a baby seem to go unanswered over a long time, we can easily become discouraged and give up praying for what we are longing for. It can often be tempting to give up talking to God about our infertility at all. Perhaps it's just become too painful, or we feel like a broken record. But just because you haven't received what you're praying for yet, doesn't mean that you never will. The Bible clearly teaches that persistence in prayer is important. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus taught us to 'Ask and it will be given,' and in James 5:16 encourages us to 'Pray for each other so that you may be healed.'
Hannah's story is another case in point. The Bible doesn't tell us exactly how long she had been barren by the time we read about her breakthrough in prayer, but the passage does tell us that this situation 'went on year after year." And yet, year after year, she continued to visit the temple to pray for a child.
So I would encourage you not to quit praying for your own healing and breakthrough too. Pray with an expectation that God is able to work miracles and that nothing is too hard for him.
2. Pray by Pouring out Your Heart to the Lord
"In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly." (1 Samuel 1:10, NIV)
Do you sometimes find it hard to be honest with God regarding the fertility problems you face? I know that I do at times. Perhaps sometimes it just feels easier to give God my best spiritual performance by telling him what I think he wants to hear instead. Perhaps a part of me still thinks my healing is based on my goodness or how well I weather the challenge.
But Hannah's story reminds us that it's okay to bring our true feelings before God. He can handle our tears, our anger, our disappointments, our questions, and our doubts. He can deal with our raw emotions. After all, he already knows everything! Just look at how in verses 12-14, Hannah is found weeping and pouring out her soul to the Lord at the temple. So great was her emotional display that Eli, the priest, initially thought she was drunk! But it is also this emotional honesty and vulnerability which moves him to pray for her and becomes the key that begins to unlock her healing.
So let Hannah's example inspire you not to hold back from God in this season but to pray with honesty, pouring out your heart to the Lord.
3. Pray for Peace of Mind
"Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him." (1 Samuel 1:17, NIV)
One of the most challenging parts of infertility is living with the stress and anxiety caused by not knowing when or if anything will ever change. It's like permanently living in limbo. Can we make plans for next year? What will we do if we have a baby by then? And what will we do if we don't?
It's so hard to find any sense of peace amid seemingly endless unknowns. So isn't it interesting that long before God provides Hannah an answer to her prayers for a child, she first receives his peace? According to the story, Eli prays for and blesses Hannah, then encourages her to trust in God and to 'go in peace.' We are then told that Hannah goes home to her husband 'with her spirit lifted.' We forget that we can ask for God's peace of mind during turmoil, as well as just asking for our problems to be removed. When I open the Bible, I'm reminded again and again that Jesus offers us calm in the storms, too – we don't have to wait for situations to change before we can experience his 'peace that surpasses all understanding.' (Philippians 4:7, NIV)
So why not spend some time asking for his peace, even as you continue to navigate all of the challenges of tests and treatments and waiting through infertility?
4. Pray for Patience in the Waiting
"So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, "Because I asked the Lord for him." (1 Samuel 1:20, NIV)
I mentioned that infertility often feels like an endless season of waiting – and waiting is really hard, especially in our modern culture where so many things are instant. But if you are familiar with this story already, you'll know that it goes on to conclude: "So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son." It was an amazing answer to prayer for sure, but I want to apply a small word of caution here. It's tempting to read the Bible and fill in the gaps ourselves, assuming that the answers always came instantly and miraculously. But that's not actually what we are told in this text. It says that she became pregnant 'in the course of time…'
This 'course of time' could have been a few days, weeks, months, or significantly longer. It could have been many more years before that 'course of time' was complete! We simply aren't told, so we can't be sure. But bearing in mind that at that time, there were no digital ovulation sticks, early pregnancy scans, or pregnancy test kits offering 99% accuracy up to a week early, I think it's safe to assume that there was a reasonable time lapse between Eli's prayer and Hannah receiving the answer. I often wonder what happened in that waiting time. Did she continue to trust God fully without wavering? Or did she still wobble and doubt at times like I tend to do?
There's no getting around the fact that waiting is a part of infertility. So why not ask God for his patience and to teach you how to wait. Rather than viewing it as dead time, try to see it as 'preparation' time for whatever God has for you next.
5. Pray with Gratitude
"Her husband Elkanah would say to her, "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" (1 Samuel 1:8, NIV)
When you're feeling crushed in spirit by infertility, it's easy to over-focus on your disappointment and overlook all your blessings, or to become joyless and let all that's good in life pass you by. I find it strangely reassuring to discover that Hannah was no exception, and she didn't always have a great attitude during infertility either. In fact, at some points in her story, it seems as if she is letting her sadness swallow her whole, and her husband Elkanah has to challenge her about it.
Of course, it's natural to feel discouraged. Infertility is really tough, and I know that I certainly have 'down' days. But the important thing is what we do when we feel that hopelessness creeping in. One of the most helpful ways I have found to shake it off is by practicing gratitude. Gratitude isn't about false positivity or pretending everything is fine when it's not. Instead, it's about a change of focus from what you lack to what you have.
As Hannah's story reminds us, it's so important not to forget or overlook all those blessings that you still have to be thankful for in your life, even while going through infertility. Like Hannah, do you have a husband who loves you? Do you have food to eat, a home to live in, friends who are supporting you in prayer, or a job that provides for you? What are your biggest blessings? And what are those small blessings you could easily overlook too?
So why not try it? You could express what you are grateful for in prayer or even write it down as a list. Do it daily, or even several times a day if you need to, and use it as a tool to take your focus solely off your infertility.
6. Pray for Truth to Permeate Your Heart
"Because the Lord had closed Hannah's womb, her rival kept provoking her." (1 Samuel 1:6, NIV)
If you're a Christian and you've been experiencing infertility for any length of time, maybe you've heard well-meaning comments or platitudes, like 'Maybe it's just not God's timing' or 'Maybe God has other plans for you.' Maybe you've even thought those things yourself.
In this story, we learn that Hannah was also told these things. In this passage, it was spoken over her twice - by her husband and his other wife. Maybe this seems like the only plausible rationale for unanswered prayers, But I want to encourage you that God doesn't cause infertility, and biblically speaking, it was never a part of his plan for your life. Infertility is a physical health problem, and like all forms of sickness in our bodies, we should only understand it as a side-effect of the fall. In fact, in Genesis 3:16, difficulties in childbirth are explicitly mentioned as a part of the curse – and I would suggest that this 'painful labor' extends beyond just the birthing process itself.
One of my favorite Christian authors, AW Tozer, once wrote: "What we believe about God is the most important thing," and it's true. If you believe that God is holding something good back from you, like a pregnancy, then it will feel hard to draw close to him. I mean, why would you want to if you have been told and believed that he is the author of your pain? God is not blocking or frustrating your family plans and causing your infertility. Neither is he holding out on you, or waiting for you to do better, or to have more faith. He loves you. He is for you, and you can be confident that he is for your family too - the concept of family was his idea, after all. Does that guarantee that our prayers will always lead to our healing this side of heaven? Sadly not, but we can pray into our infertility with greater confidence that we are praying in line with God's will and shake off the lies and doubt. The bottom line is that if something you believe about him doesn't leave you wanting to draw towards him, then it's simply not the truth about him.
So can I finish this piece by challenging you to keep asking God to permeate your heart with his truth? Keep seeking out the truth about God and how he feels about you, and keep speaking it out over your situation as you pray.
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Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio
Anna Kettle is a Christian author, blogger, speaker, and an award-winning marketing professional. Her first devotional book, ‘Sand Between Your Toes: Inspirations for a Slower, Simpler, More Soulful Life’ released earlier this year under Tyndale House. She is also a co-founder of SPACE, a UK-based miscarriage & infertility support network for women. Anna is a coffee lover, bookworm, travel enthusiast, music fan, keen foodie, gatherer of people, a miscarriage warrior, and a big believer in the healing power of words. She is married to husband Andy, and mom to their little boy Ben who is 6.
You can find more of her writing at www.annakettle.com or at www.thereisspaceforyouhere.com